A fourth-grade teacher was giving her pupils a lesson in logic.
"Here is the situation," she said.
"A man is standing up in a boat in the middle of a river, fishing.
He loses his balance, falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help.
His wife hears the commotion, knows he can’t swim,
and runs down to the bank.
Why do you think she ran to the bank?"
A girl raised her hand and asked, "To draw out all his savings?"
So today the disciples are faced with a similar situation –like being in class when the teacher asks a very important question. They want to seem intelligent so they blurt out an answer –not always the right one –but an answer none the less.
Well this morning Peter blurts out an answer that is both correct and amazing which is pretty good for Peter but don’t worry he messes it up in the next passage.
We are familiar with all the miracle stories. We have heard of the wedding at Cana, feeding the people, healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Great things have been happening everywhere that Jesus and the disciples have gone.
So today Jesus asks two essential questions first he asks who do the people say I am. What rumors or understanding of what has been happening around them is going on? Christ is asking the disciples for a summary of the crowds. All of them regarded him as some kind of prophet or of one sent by God, But the answers never really hold much conviction. The disciples in verse 14 tell Him many people think He is John the Baptist or one of the great prophets. And, this is where it gets interesting this is when the story gets personal. Jesus asks “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
Jesus asked this of His closest followers and yet only one of them had any kind of an answer. “The rest just stood there and looked at him. They flat out didn’t know what to say. You know, the fact that these were his closest followers and friends That didn’t know how to answer such a direct question makes me wonder, what if I he were to ask us that same question today?”
What would you say? Does the answer come quickly or would it be difficult in today’s secular climate to make such a bold answer?
If we look at Jesus’ actions, if he were here today doing many of the things he did then how would you answer? A Methodist Minister named John Nadasi had some pretty interesting insight to this he states people would see him as a criminal.
Well, he would have everyone mad at him.
the FDA for turning water into wine without a license,
the EPA for killing fig trees,
the AMA for practicing medicine without a license,
the Dept. of Health for asking people to open graves,
for raising the dead and for feeding 5,000 people in the wilderness,
the NEA for teaching without a certificate,
OSHA for walking on water without a lifejacket
and for flying without an airplane,
the SPCA for driving hogs into the sea,
the NATIONAL BOARD of PSYCHIATRISTS for giving advice
on how to live a guilt free life,
the NOW for not choosing a female apostle,
the ABORTION RIGHTS LEAGUE for saying that whoever harms
children, it is better that they had never been born,
the INTERFAITH MOVEMENT for condemning all other religions,
and by the ZONING DEPT for building heavenly mansions without a building permit.”
I am sure if we tried we could think of even a few more to add to that list and I admit I take exception to the statement that he didn’t name a female apostle for I believe they were named and then washed out by male hierarchy. But that is just my suspicion considering the prominent role women had in certain aspects of the Gospel they are not just women in passing but named. That is another sermon.
One interesting aspect of this is the apostles first response to Jesus’ Question. “The disciples answer by naming people who are dead. John the Baptist, a contemporary of Jesus; Elijah, a harbinger of the messiah and of the role John the Baptist plays in the gospel stories; Jeremiah (a favorite in Matthew), or one of the prophets. Perhaps John represents the spirit of a movement that Herod could not kill despite John's beheading. Elijah represents the hope of divine activity for Israel's sake. The prophets delivered God's word with its creative power. The disciples' answer implies the perception that divine creative power is stirring that the imperial powers of Rome cannot kill.” But I would venture to say that a clear understanding what Messiah is or would be is not there yet.
This is why Peter’s response is so amazing. Jesus even tells us it is amazing basically saying wow there is no way this came to you through your own process for “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven!” This concept of being the Son of the Living God and Messiah is a concept beyond the Jewish people of Jesus time, beyond the apostles standing there. and it may even be beyond us still today.
This reading today challenges us to our soul. To our core of Christian belief…How? Well the question Jesus asks of Peter is one still being asked to us today and I bet each one of our responses is a little different.
According to the UCC statement of faith this is our calling;
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:
so we are called to testify to the works of Christ …to testify to his mission of reaching out to the marginalized, the oppressed, to all people with love and empathy and compassion
God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.
Before us are choices and we are free to make choices that lead to full lives in God or lives that are selfish and isolating but more importantly each one of us is an image of the creator an image of the divine and such this is how we are called to respect and care for each other… there are no exceptions everyone is an image of God
God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
This statement means that God is active, seeking us out. This is not a passive inert God but a god moving in this world in our lives walking besides us and engaging us in something bigger and beyond ourselves and beyond this world towards the reality of the kin-dom of God.
God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.
God Judges all humanity…sounds harsh but by that will of righteousness that is declared through the prophets and the apostles I interpret that to mean God created us just as we are and in his Judgement, he calls us to be better. God knows we are human and knows we are not perfect and knows we will stray from the path but his judgement is not one of shame or punishment but one of love that calls us and challenges us to grow in God’s love to be better because we can be, we can always be better as individuals and especially as one people created in the image of God
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.
Jesus was born to deliver us from our sins and in dying destroyed death as it once was, opening Gods experience to our human experience. “reconciling the whole of creation to its creator” … In many ways, this was the beginning of centuries of a healing process, for human kind had chosen to so alienated itself from God that we are still working toward that goal of bringing us all back to the loving creator.
God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
Through us here today the holy spirit is doing something. The Holy Spirit is moving something that is a part of the process of renewing the church through the faithful. Now I will say something here that many may not like but there are many faithful Christians and each one of us have had a glimpse at the truth, and none of us have got it all right. But that is the miracle and the glory of the church each one of us moved by the Holy Spirit to do the best we can and hopefully the world will be better for it. This is why we hold the Christian church in prayer for we are often at odds with one another and our call is to find common ground in caring for the poor, the marginalized and the disposed, to do the best we can and pray that the spirit of God will continue to draw us closer together as we work towards being the kin-dom of God here on earth.
God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
This statement sums up what I have been saying. This is hard but it is what we are called to be in the United Church of Christ God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, there is a cost to discipleship and part of that is actually saying who Christ is and be bold in a world that may challenge us. to be servants in the service of the whole human family, we do not get to pick who we serve, we do not get to say I’ll pray for you but not you, we do not get to say there is only one way and a best way or an easy way to serve Christ. We just don’t! We are called to serve the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, now just because we are called to serve the whole family does not mean we are complacent after all resistance is a spiritual practice… but when we show our opposition and our resistance, spiritually, this means no harm shall come to another by my hand… This is hard stuff…to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory. This is the gift of the hard work, we get to take rest at Christs table, we get to share in Christ’s victory over death, but in the meant time we are called to all this other stuff …all this work…but in the end the profession of faith says this
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
So, when all this is said and done who do you say that I am is not an easy question and in this day and age it is challenging. I know many have been wounded and abused by the church and I see Christian bashing all the time. You see we all get lumped into the same boat. Most people who are not active in a church or a Christian community do not know the difference between Pat Robertson from the 700 club or my friend Patrick Rogers a UCC minister in Ft Lauderdale.
Many times, it is the one who has the most money that gets the airplay and that is what defines Christianity for many people. So many times, before we can answer the question “Who do you say that I am?” We, as the United Church of Christ; a United and Uniting Church, that proclaims No matter who you are or where you are in life’s Journey you are welcome, A Church that believes in a truly extravagant welcome and a Loving God, we get lumped in as Christian and all the baggage that comes with that.
Many times I have had to say, or write because a lot of this comes out in social media, that I am not that kind of Christian. I say who I believe Jesus is by relating my experience of a denomination that works to heal division. A denomination that seeks out injustice and works to correct that.
This the denomination that because of our history and the justice work we seek out we have many firsts.
Our past includes the first churches to speak out against slavery, the first ordained African American Pastor, the first foreign mission society, and the first woman pastor. I think this partially answers the question “who do you say I am?”
The United Church of Christ has many mission projects we partner with and this may answer the question. Such as we currently as a denomination work with Border links in Arizona, heifer international, Habitat for Humanity, the fuller center for housing in Macon Georgia, and “The Appalachia Service Project (ASP) which repairs homes for the poorest families in Central Appalachia with the vision that substandard housing in Central Appalachia might be eradicated and everyone who comes into contact with this ministry will be transformed.”
Globally we have many projects including our newest focus, the Caribbean Initiative. “The Caribbean Initiative invites the whole church to witness together with the Caribbean region through education, advocacy, and support of our partners for the next eighteen months. Partner churches and organizations in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Colombia, bring incredible gifts in their strong testimonies, as they receive and share the Good News of Jesus Christ. They provide us with a broader understanding of the many ways in which God is seen at work in the world and challenge us to expand our vision of the Church. Our hope and prayer is that through many and varied experiences, we will better understand the issues, priorities, successes, and struggles of sisters and brothers in the Caribbean and, in turn, be challenged to understand ourselves, our world, and our faith anew.”
As I have been exploring and rambling on it has come to me that maybe the Answer to who do you say I am is no longer a vocal proclamation. Perhaps we need to be more than that, we need to be proclamation in action. Such as our partnership here with Cots helping them deliver a few bags of food a week. Our upcoming fair-trade boutique where we feature artisans from around the world who get fair pay for the work they do and their whole community benefits from our simple act of intentional shopping. Even sending cards, reaching out to each other and gathering to share meals together I believe that may answer the question of “who do you say I am?” Much louder than any proclamation can.
When we work to live the best lives, we can. When we choose to struggle to grow together as community, when we reach out to those who are marginalized, abandoned and scorned by society, when we live as blessed and beloved children of an all loving all welcoming God that is when we best answer the Question!
So in light of all this, in the light of all we have heard to day I’ll repeat the question. Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” I am wondering in what unique and new ways we might be called to answer?
 John Nadasi, Who do oyu say that I am?, July 24, 2002, accessed July 23, 2017, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/who-do-you-say-that-i-am-john-nadasi-sermon-on-confession-of-sin-49631.
 Marilyn Salmon, Commentary on Mathew 16:13-20, August 24, 2008, accessed August 23, 2017, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=134.
 Robert V. Moss, United Church of Christ Statement of Faith, 2017, accessed August 23, 2017, http://ucc.org/about-us_what-we-believe.
 United Church of Christ, UCC Firsts, accessed August 23, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/about-us_ucc-firsts.
 Global Ministries, The Carribean Initiative, 2017, accessed August 23, 2017, http://globalministries.org/carribbeaninitiative.